Every now and then, for a family function, I go back to Germany. School friends or cousins whom I haven’t met in a long time inevitably ask: “So what do you do in Japan?”
When I truthfully tell them, “I work at TUV Rheinland”, they are confused. For the average German, TUV is just about car inspections. So hearing about my employer, my friends wonder: “Why would the Japanese rely on a German institution for car inspections?”
Well, they do and they don’t.
“sha-ken”, the Japanese automobile inspection system
We are in Japan, but we do not inspect cars as the average German would think. The Japanese have the “sha-ken” for that – the Japanese automobile inspection registration system – which requires passenger vehicles to be inspected every other year.
Now, I did not get to work for TUV right away. After a three year stint with the JET Program, a Japanese government initiative that employs university graduates with Japanese municipalities, I was looking for a job in Greater Tokyo – to be more specific, a job in which I could just use my different languages. An agency proposed I work for TUV Rheinland.
My first reaction didn’t differ much from my friends’: “Why would the Japanese rely on a German institution for car inspections?”
Wide variety of Industrial Services
Now after twelve years at the TUV Rheinland Japan office, I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of departments, which enabled me to get a good understanding of our Japanese operation. Today, I know very well that yes, Japan does have its own automobile inspection registration system.
I currently work in the Industrial Services Department. Compared to Germany, our department is fairly small so with two other colleagues supporting our manager and five engineers I cover the wide range of services we offer at Industrial Services.
Every-day task: think and act internationally
On any given day, I might talk on the phone with a Japanese client to schedule their PED audit (PED = Pressure Equipment Directive), with a Texan colleague to arrange an inspection in the American Midwest; with a Kazakh colleague to receive a quote for an inspection in Kyrgyzstan; with a colleague in Shanghai to arrange for him to come over and test a Japanese customer’s lifting equipment, and with a Scandinavian client who wants to help their customer to satisfy the Japanese regulation’s requirements.
At work, every day I use English, Japanese and German to varying degrees. Being exposed to all these different cultures and business cultures can be tiring, but is mostly very exciting and fun.
Some intercultural fine-tuning
Some German colleagues, for example, insist on calling me “Mrs. Stark” instead of “Ms. Stark” – although they don’t know about my marital status (and don’t know they could as well address me as “Frau Stark” and write in German). Some colleagues from the Middle East or South East Asia address their mail to “Ms. Sarah” and Japanese colleagues call me “Sarah-san”.
I love talking about international sports events with colleagues – during the recent Pyeongchang Olympics I started writing an email to Korean colleagues about the opening ceremony; I congratulated Dutch colleagues on their female team winning all three medals in the 3,000m speed skating and talked to American colleagues about the fabulous Chloe Kim.
Similar things – different words
Of course, communication isn’t always easy because often we talk about the same thing using different words: Would you know the difference between an “internal work order” and a “sub-contract sheet”? Turns out it’s pretty much the same thing – only different subsidiaries use a different word!
But that’s a topic for another article.